Updates – Trip, American visa fiasco, Bangkok condo

A few things have transpired which have changed my plans… nothing too bad or anything, just changed… so, here is some info on the new plans as well as the reason for them.

The main problem had to do with the evil empire. The American Embassy in Bangkok is truly unbelievable… while countries like Canada and Mexico have their Embassy in a small suite in a high rise building, the American Embassy in Bangkok is surrounded by barricades, barbed wire and a plethora of guards and spans over an entire city block… behind the gates you can see huge, manicured lawns, tennis courts, and Jane even told me they have a golf driving range.

The main reason this is funny is that an Embassy of this size, you would think, would be indicative of the wealth of a country… however, as you should know by now, the US is the most bankrupt, broke country on the planet, by every quantifiable measuring stick.

Even as I write, the US has sent their head of the Treasury AND the Federal Reserve chief to China to BEG them not to bankrupt the country… China owns more US dollars than any other country (over $1 trillion now, and growing by the day) and if (when) China decides to stop lending money to the US, the whole game falls apart and the US will be yet another empire for the scrap heap… that day may have actually come on Monday, when the US dollar dropped nearly 2 cents, spurring the emergency visit.

At the same time, Cheney and Bush are panicking in the Middle East as they have lost all control of the Iraq situation and the evil duo are going around to a number of countries there this week to try to bribe their governments to support them… another mission which will be futile as Iran will basically take over most of the Gulf now… it couldn’t have worked out better for Iran… the US comes in and spends hundreds of billions destroying Iraq and leaving it so decimated that all Iran has to do is walk in, clean up, and take over… nice job Dubbyah…

Anyway, back to my story, the reason I had to go to the American Embassy is because I was planning to fly Jane to the US and Mexico when I went there and she needs a visa to go to the US (and practically every other country in the world except neighboring Asian countries and Brazil).

You wouldn’t believe the amount of work it is for a Thai person to get the honor of going to the US for a vacation… first you have to apply on the internet, buy a PIN #, for $15, fill out numerous forms and then apply for an appointment… the appointment date is at least a few weeks later… then you go to a post office, buy a bank draft for $100 (a LOT of money for many Thais) payable to the United Empire of America, just for the honor of having them talk to you. Then you have to go through metal detectors, turn off your cell phone, fill out more forms when inside… then buy an envelope to return your passport in later for $1, sit in a room with about 100 other people and wait 1-2 hours for them to call your number.

After all this, they said no. They said because Jane wasn’t going to university fulltime and didn’t have a fulltime job that she had ‘nothing’ to ensure she would come back to Thailand. I pointed out that she had numerous visas in her passport from all over the world (China, Russia, Indonesia, Myanmar etc…) from other trips we had taken together but they said that wasn’t good enough.

Unbelievable.

It’s too bad Thai people are so nice, because I would love it when in 10 years, when the US is completely gutted and a bankrupt warzone that no one would even want to go near, and Thailand is doing very well as Asia becomes the next economic powerhouse (it already is actually), if they would put up a big giant embassy in the US and make Americans go through hoops for the opportunity to go to Thailand. But they won’t, they are too nice and welcoming.

Just fyi and btw, I don’t hate Americans… I just dislike the Empire their unbelievably corrupt government is trying to perpetrate on the planet right now and can’t believe not many people have noticed yet that they are not a rich superpower, but a completely broke and soon to be completely toothless (good luck paying for any of that gigantic military when the dollar collapses) country…

Anyway, due to this, I changed my plans.

Here is the general plan:

I will now go to the Philippines in mid December with Jane to Boracay to check it out again for a prospective bar location… and then, depending on an Australian visa application for Jane, maybe go to Australia for a bit until around new year… at which point I will likely then take off for South America for a month or so and Jane will go back to Bangkok.

Also in the interesting news category, I may reneg on my statement that “I will never buy a place or stay in one spot more than a few weeks, ever again” soon. Why?

Well, the last few months I keep noticing how things in Bangkok are really getting good… it just seems to be getting better and better all the time here, in every respect. And I keep discovering things about this place that amaze me. For example, yesterday Jane took me to a mall I hadn’t been to before… it is called the Siam Paragon. It was really unbelievable… it had a Ferrari store in it, a Lamborghini store, was incredibly nicely designed… chandeliers… has movie theatres in it with full lounges, discos etc in the theatre for you to hang out while you await the movie. It had an Imax theatre that was the nicest one I had ever been to…

Not that I really care about malls and theaters and stuff, but my point is that Bangkok has everything you could ever want in a city, and in many cases, it is nicer, cooler and better than ANYWHERE else in the world… and the best part, the prices are still VERY reasonable. Even at this super cool, trendy, massive theatre, I paid $13 for the tickets for Jane and I (so about $6.50 each… if we went to a normal non-Imax theatre the cost is $3 each) and the popcorn and drinks and everything only cost $4… for a total of $17… in the US that would probably be about double…

But I don’t expect prices to stay this way (for Americans)… the US dollar will almost certainly devalue by about 50% in the next year or two, which would bring the prices more inline with other places for those who have their currency in USD (a big mistake).

So, anyway, every week I am amazed by Bangkok and more and more I keep finding myself loving this place.. it really is the perfect city for me at this point in time… it has everything I love, and does it better than anywhere else, for half the cost (or less) than anywhere else…

So tomorrow I am going apartment shopping… I am looking at buying a condo in Bangkok as an investment both economically and psychologically…

To give you an indication of what I am looking at, check out this URL. I am also looking at some new developments, see them here. Check out the Manhattan and Watermark development… some really cool, ultra modern designs… also notice that the Fullerton was completed six months ahead of schedule, something unheard of in over-budget, under-quality North Americuh… everything just works better in Asia.

The first apartment I listed is in the dead center of the city… it is right next door to that Siam Paragon mall… check out the view on that link, it is right beside a golf course and a horse race track (I didn’t even know they had a horse race track until I saw this picture… I tell you, every week in Bangkok I find out new things that surprise me about what they have here).

It comes fully furnished (most condos come that way here, which I think is great… why move furniture every time you want to move??).. the furniture looks decent at this one (although I’d replace a few things, like the couches with more modern ones) for 8.5 million baht, which works out to about $200,000 USD… which is very expensive for here but it is a very high end building in the best location in town, so that is why.

Sooooo… ya, I am sure most of you are shocked that I am actually looking to buy a place… but ya, I am…. after being in and around Bangkok for nearly a year now, I have decided that I will not be getting bored of this place anytime soon and am resigned to the fact that if I spent half my year here I would have no problem with that at all.

Yup, the times they are a changing…

But don’t despair, I cannot and will not just rot here forever… as my travel plans over the next few months show, I am still intent on seeing much more of the planet, having more adventures and engaging in future enterprises in interesting and fun places and sectors, so don’t worry, the show will go on even if I buy a few more things than would fit into my one backpack and spent part of my time in one spot.

Map

I came across a neat site which allows you to put all the places you have been onto it… kinda interesting… here is mine:

http://www.modmyprofile.com/travels/33391.bmp

There are sorta two obviously gaping holes there for me (other than Siberia, Greenland and Antarctica which I don’t have any real desire to go see any time soon): Africa and the area around India and West to the Gulf. I definitely have to get these two large regions checked out in the next 1-2 years…

Also, while i felt like I saw quite a bit of South America last summer, after I plotted it onto a map it doesn’t seem like I saw that much… that is one big continent… so will fill in a lot of spots there in the next few months likely.

As well, I have never been to the caribbean (was on my way there on my sailboat but, well, you know what happened there). I may try to check out some of the islands there this winter while I am in the region.

Phew, just typing in all those locations was a lot of work! This is a pretty damn big planet.

Actually, now that I think of it, there are a LOT of places in Europe (especially Eastern) that I haven’t been either.

Got a lot of work still ahead! Thailand has SLLLLOOWEEEDD me down big time but I will not allow it to stop me!

One Night in Yangon

So I was comfortable, as usual, in Bangkok, enjoying my dailly swim at the pool and time in the sun, interspersed by work on my laptop on the excellent wifi connection at my place and good thai food and fun times… as usual, more than content just to stay here (which scares me…. I could very well wake up 10 years from now and still be here if I don’t push myself!)

But, the Thai tourist visas are still only 30 days (rumored to be changing soon to 90 days but hasn’t yet) so I had to go somewhere for a bit… so I decided to go to Yangon (also know as Rangoon) in Myanmar (formerly known as Burma).

I got a visa through a travel agent and booked a flight and went with Jane.

Upon arrival, the differences between a place like Bangkok and Yangon were stark. For starters, I left via the Suvarnabhumi billion dollar airport in Bangkok (now one of the biggest airports in the world and a major hub) and arrived at what could best be described as a delapidated, mostly brick, very old building that was very small and looked like it was going to collapse soon. However, I should note that there were a bunch of people sitting out in the hot sun, pounding bricks and stuff, and the taxi driver pointed to them and said, “new airport!”… it actually looked smaller than the old one, much smaller than a Walmart, but at least it looked newer.

The taxi, and all taxis, in Yangon are some of the most busted cars you have ever seen. None of them would likely even be allowed to drive on the roads in Camerica… usually 25 year old Toyotas and other unrecognizable old beaters. Every second street has a taxi pulled over with the hood up with an exasperated taxi driver staring blankly into the innards of the rusted out beast.

As we drove in the taxi, there was another guy in the taxi who seemed well known, named Ting, who tried to sell us on all sorts of tour packages… he picked the wrong taxi to try to sell to though as I would sooner die than ever be in a tour group. On our way to the hotel, in the busted out taxi, in 35c heat with no air conditioning, Ting pointed out that there are 3 seasons in Myanmar, the hot season, rainy season and the cold season. We were lucky, it was the cold season, he said, as sweat was dripping in a near continuous stream from my brow.

I brought $800 USD with me in cash (they accept USD as readily as their own local currency, the Kyat) because Myanmar has NO ATM’s (this is the first country I have been to without ATM’s) and only a few of the hotels even accept credit cards. I stayed at the Trader’s Hotel, a nice 4 star hotel in the center of town for $96 USD/night.

Upon registering at the hotel I felt panic as I read the sign, “There is no internet access in the rooms due to the Control Policy of Myanmar”. In fact, there is hardly any internet anywhere. There was one internet cafe across the street from my hotel, and the airport had an internet cafe, but other than that, nada. I heard that they block even the most basic email sites such as Hotmail etc., but I got through to those sites, so maybe their policy has changed.

It is funny looking at the hotel listings for Yangon… most are in the $50/night range, with many cheaper than that. All the 4 and 5 star very nice hotels and resorts are around $80-120/night, but then there is one hotel, called the Strand, which is $400+ a night which sticks out like a sore thumb. However, they state they have internet access in their rooms… I presume that the Myanmar “government” (in reality just a bunch of gangsters who have held the country hostage) allowed them to put in internet under the guise that they must charge ludicrously high rates to ensure that no Myanmar people could afford to stay there, so they can control them more. As you know I am addicted to the internet and stared at that $400 price tag numerous times, coming close to clicking ‘reserve’ more than a few times, but just couldn’t do it, knowing I was essentially paying $300 for one days worth of internet access.

We then went out for the evening. We went to a nice hotel, called the Nikko Lake Resort, where we had a nice steak dinner. Yangon has two large lakes in the city and it really makes the city feel nice… water is so calming, especially lake water. The city itself is very green and has a nice tropical feel to it for the most part.

The roads in most parts of town were brutal… smooth parts were the exception to the pot-holed norm.

After dinner we went to a place called the 50th Street Bar & Grill which I had heard about… it is apparently owned by some Aussies who also have bars in Cambodia and Vietnam. It was very quiet (it was around 9pm on a Wednesday to be fair though), so we played a bit of pool then headed to the two “hot” nightlife spots in town, Asia Plaza and JJ’s.

These discos are VERY Chinese style. You get met at the front door like you are checking into a hotel…. you have to pay for your first drink in advance and then are taken to a table where you can order fruit and stuff if you want. They have something in Yangon which I haven’t quite seen anywhere though… every ‘disco’ has a ‘fashion show’. The fashion show is pretty much continuous and is essentially 20-30 of the most bored, disinterested, almost detached semi-ok looking girls, generally wearing street clothes, walking around in choreographed walks with no gestures or expressions… just sorta walking in a diagonal… then walking in a circle.

A lot of the Chinese and Japanese businessmen that seem to permeate Yangon (there is a lot of obvious Japanese and Chinese businesses there, including all the major hotels… my hotel Trader’s Hotel is part of the Chinese Shangri-La chain and Nikko Hotel is obviously Japanese) seemed to enjoy the show… but I have been to many discos in mainland China (outside of the major centers) and I guess, to them, this was pretty damn exciting. Actually, I have been to Japanese strip clubs before too, and the girls don’t strip… they mostly just stand there… and you sit in theatre seating and every 10 minutes or so they give one man in the crowd a tambourine and he claps along with the music, which seems to make him very happy… and from time to time the girls come out with a 6 pack of beer and sell it to people in the crowd, which almost incites a riot it is so exciting for them. So, I guess compared to many places in China and Japan, Myanmar is THE CRAZZZZZIEST PLACE EVERRRRR!!!!!

Jane and I mostly just traded ‘are you kidding me’ looks back and forth for an hour or so then went back to the hotel, went to sleep, and in the morning we headed straight for the airport and went home.

Yangon seemed fairly nice in general.. many of the people seemed very nice. They also have a definitely unique culture there… it is interesting that to Jane, a Thai girl, she can speak a lot of Laos, and can even speak a bit of Vietnamese and a little tiny bit of Cambodian, but she did not even know hello or thank you in Myanmar… it was like the 2 countries were on other sides of the planet… there was nothing similar at all… Myanmar has a lot more brown skinned people than Thailand and seems to have an interesting mix of Indian and Chinese… you can see WAY more Chinese influence there than in Thailand, which has relatively little (Jane can’t even use chopsticks well). It has an interesting history, being essentially a colony of Britain at one point, and was thought of as a ‘province’ of British India, which shows how much it is thought of as more of a part of India than of SE Asia.

At night, lots and lots of Burmese people sit out on the sidewalk on little plastic chairs and drink tea… tea seems to be VERY popular there, an obvious throwback to the English influence.

There is also hardly a street light in Yangon, so as you walk or drive through town, you see tons of people on the sidewalk drinking tea etc., but you can barely see them unless a headlight flashes past them… the city has a unique feel with its lakes, trees, large golden temples and pagodas EVERYWHERE and no street lights… kinda feels like you went back in time a bit.

Also as a throwback to the English, EVERYONE we met spoke decent English, which was nice for getting around… this is another difference to Thailand, where some people speak a little English, but on the whole, hardly anyone except a few people speak good enough English to have much of a conversation.

In the end I am glad I went… it is very interesting… if they can rid themselves of this horribly repressive government there may be great potential there as I could see Myanmar becoming a major tourist destination as it has so many large and interesting temples etc… but in the meantime, it’s not my kind of place. No good nightlife… no internet… no Jeff.

I’m writing this poolside back in Bangkok… which seems even more heaven-like to me now.

I intend to go through Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Argentina, Brasil and up to Mexico and possibly LA/Las Vegas a bit over the next two months, but won’t be leaving for at least another 2-3 weeks as I have to get a new passport as I am already out of pages (it is only 11 months old too!!!!).

Until then, you know where to find me. Sawasdeekrub